Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bordeaux Ruins

Monday was a holiday here (as the day following Pentecost Sunday), and we spent the afternoon in the charming garden of the blogging friend who first introduced us to Bordeaux and who, with her family, has made us feel very welcome here ever since. After a splendid five-hour lunch (I know!), her friend D, our landlady here, drove us home, stopping within the last kilometre or so to point something out. I might have gasped when I saw what that something was. D was quite chuffed, I think, to have shown us something marvellous that we hadn't discovered during three previous visits, despite the fact that we are living practically within shouting distance of this Roman! Amphitheatre!
After our French lesson Tuesday morning, we lunched at a Brasserie on nearby Rue Fondaudège and then walked 'round the corner where these magnificent ruins sit unobtrusively. We studied the interpretative plaques for a while (see Pater above) before noting that the small tourist kiosk was staffed by two alert, helpful, very young people.
We happily accepted their offer of an individual tour, and the young man left his female colleague in charge of the info booth, led us through the gate and right up to the 2000-year old walls. His French, Italian-accented though it was, was so clear that we followed it quite easily, and his demeanour was so engaging that we enjoyed a good conversation about the amphitheatre's history. What a great way to reinforce the morning's lesson!

The ruins comprise mainly the gladiators' entrance of what was once an arena whose banked wooden seats held between 15,000 and 22,000 spectators! Built in the 1st century, it was used until about the 3rd, apparently for the kinds of spectacle you've undoubtedly seen tense and gory dramatizations of: gladiators fighting fiercely, often to the death, slaves who displeased their masters being offered up to wild beasts as dinner and a show. At the time, the amphitheatre was a considerable distance from the Roman city of Burdiglia, but people would happily make the trek, apparently, to socialize over a mauling. Good times! And such a contrast, at least superficially, between the violence unleashed in the arena and the very restrained aesthetic of its walls, the geometric precision of its archways, the regularity of its contrasting accent lines.
The integrity of the building is so evidently strong that one easily imagines it might still be standing were it not for impatient real estate development through the centuries. Bordeaux's mercantile successes (particularly with its wines) brought new residents (many English wine merchants, according to our young guide) who used the amphitheatre as a quarry, stripping its neatly cut limestone walls for their own homes.
Luckily, by the early twentieth century, the value of the ruins was recognized, and they became the focus of archaeological interest. Development was eventually halted, just as you see above, with residences not much more than a hundred feet away, and surely sharing some foundation walls at the subterranean level.
I may go back and sit, perhaps sketch a bit, at the ruins. Perhaps spend some time imagining it just before the French Revolution, inhabited by prostitutes and thieves. During the Revolution itself, the Amphitheatre was used as a garbage dump, even as the bloodthirstiness of its earliest Roman days was being mirrored in the bloody politics in what we now call the City of Light. ...
Meanwhile, what a splendid history and language lesson, all rolled into one. We have another lesson at home with our tutor today (yesterday was a biking day, to the market at Créon and back) and tomorrow, but we're also going to see if we can join one of the tours offered by the Tourist Office. It's just not clear that there will be enough days. We have only one more week here before heading to Paris, and then on to Italy to meet the rest of the family. Trying not to think about the train strike. . .
Have you visited ruins that brought you close to the past? Our guide told us that this amphitheatre in Bordeaux is sometimes called the little cousin to the Coliseum. Have you visited the big cousin?
*do please excuse the "quick and dirty" summary of the amphitheatre 's history and of its eventual rescue; I simply don't have the time to research and write more, although I did some cursory reading at a few credible and accessible sources. I like Invisible Bordeaux, for example, and there's always Wikipedia, just to get an overview. Otherwise, there are many decent books on Bordeaux history out there, should you wish to know more.

21 comments:

  1. I love a good ruin. The way Rome sticks out here and there in Europe is one of my favorite things about the whole region. How wonderful to come across the amphitheater and have such leisurely access to it.

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    1. Yes! The easy access reminded me of visiting Stonehenge decades ago, she you could approach it so casually, which somehow enhanced the awe (if that makes any sense at all)...

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  2. Your days sound wonderful - just enough planned ahead of time and just enough spontaneous bits. For years we lived near a ruined castle, Geroldseck, that hadn't yet been sanitised by the authorities. It was a wonderful place to roam on a sunny afternoon.

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    1. Oh, magic, that kind of castle-roaming. I'm sure it involved all kinds of imaginings...
      and you're right, I'm quite enjoying the balance were striking at the moment.

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  3. It is amazing to me that there are so many relics and ruins still standing in Europe considering the wars that were fought there. Your pictures are wonderful!

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    1. It amazes me as well. all the vicissitudes of history yet many structures persist and persist. glad you're enjoying the photos, no doubt thinking ahead to your own travels next year.

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  4. You have to know the past to understand the present and shape the future - is a saying. As an archaeologist I love old ruins of course -; Glad that there is so many around still, and that they are so important to people and their communities.

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    1. No wonder your post the other day was so knowledgeable about the old buildings! I hadn't realized you're an archaeologist. Like you, I think the past has so much to tell us about the present...and the future.

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  5. Don't you love being so close to history? What tales would those walls tell? It sounds as though your days are full. I am enjoying your travels. I hope you are!

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    1. I do! There's actually an old, old church directly across the street from us, subdivided into strata units. So interesting to me, that continuity.

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  6. There's a train strike??? Lord. Tell me it's going to resolve itself shortly.

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    1. It seems to be okay at the moment, but who knows? there is a big struggle at the moment over the government's determination to cut costs...I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I'll double them up for your trip if you'd like...

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    2. Please do! I'm taking the train everywhere!

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  7. Stumbling across historical ruins in Europe never fails to amaze me.

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    1. Me too! They're everywhere, sketching such a different history than my own country's.

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  8. Truly splendid! What a find to explore. When we visited the Pont du Gard it was as though I felt time shift and I could envision the Roman soldiers marching across the bridge. It was a hot day, we had brought our swimsuits so we changed in some bushes and went for a swim. I wondered if the soldiers/slaves who constructed the bridge also swam in those waters and looked back at their handiwork in admiration as we did centuries later.

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    1. Lorrie, I love this story! Thanks for sharing it! It does sometimes feel as if the different times could leak into each other in certain places, the inspiration for so many children's books, a notion we seem to hold fondly.

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  9. What a great entry to read early on a Friday morning with my second cup of coffee. I have been to Bordeaux a few times but never knew about this amphitheatre. I have visited the Coliseum twice, an experience that makes one extremely thoughtful, to say the least. Sort of puts life's immediate anxieties into perspective, I find. But that's what I love about Europe - the past is always just beneath the surface and pops up all the time, reminding us that all flesh is grass. Personally, this always acts as a remedy to the periodic bouts of the black dog. And now Italy beckons you! If that doesn't smack the depression right in the kisser, you're a teapot. To paraphrase John Peel. Forza!

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    1. You'll be pleased to know I've rescued myself from possible teapot status ....and I love that whole expression! So pleased y enjoyed e post. In turn, I really appreciate your comments about the perspective gained brought those ruins that remind us of a much larger timeline than our own.

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  10. Hello Frances! Was taking quick peak at your site to see if you were back in Espedaillac. These ruins remind me of the day drawing in the old cathedral ruins. Your trip looks wonderful. And good for you for continuing in your illustrative journal.
    Bev Laidlaw

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    1. Hi Bev! Thanks for reading. No, we didn't go back to Espedaillac (looks as if the crew are having a good time there, though). I did think of our day at that cathedral when we were at the Bordeaux ruins -- and again at the Colosseum in Rome the other day. My journal is very modest, but I really enjoy taking time for it when we're traveling. Have you kept up with your art through the year? Loved that little watercolour you did of Paul last sumer!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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